Workplace Stress

Good stress v. bad stress

A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. But when stress exceeds the ability to cope, it stops being helpful and can affect performance, health, and personal life too.

Not being able to influence or lacking control over workload (e.g. pressure to perform) or things happening in workplace (e.g. changes or threat of redundancy) are often key triggers.

Warning signs

  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work
  • Fatigue and problems sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of sex drive

Coping with stress yourself

There are many things you can do for yourself.

  • Talk to co-workers – a problem shared, really is a problem halved according to research . Encouraging disclosure, sharing experiences and offering mutual support, can reduce stress in the workplace.
  • Turn to friends and family – feeling lonely or isolated makes your more vulnerable to stress and the listening ears of supportive friends and family members is extremely important to managing stress in all areas of your life.
  • Step outside the situation – exploring new or igniting old interests, perhaps by taking a class or joining a club, or even by volunteering your time, is a good way to take back control over decisions and choices, as well as an opportunity to connect with others.  Our Community Map shows what’s going on near you.
  • Exercise – a little regular activity every day – perhaps building in walking or cycling to and from work - is an effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body.
  • Avoid nicotine – many people turn to smoking in times of stress, in fact, as nicotine is a powerful stimulant, it can lead to to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
  • Take care with alcohol – Alcohol can help you to relax, but too much can increase anxiety as it wears off and too much over time can seriously affect your health. Turning to alcohol also won’t remove the problem and may even may make the situation worse.

Support from employers

Employees are assets to any business, so it’s an employers best interest to keep you healthy, focussed and productive - even small or medium-sized enterprises.

For a long time, safety has been high on the workplace agenda, but recently the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and ACAS published a booklet for employees and employers focussing on mental health and stress in the workplace.

  • Talk to your employer about workplace stressors – avoid a list of complaints, be specific about the issue which is affecting your performance and therefore the business. Constructive criticism only!
  • Doing more than you should? - It's easy to keep saying 'yes' when new work comes your way. Be clear on what’s in your job description, show how you’ve been doing more than your fair share or what’s been asked of you, but explain how it’s now affecting your productivity.
  • Feeling unfulfilled? - Demonstrate ongoing commitment to your employer by seeking new challenges within your workplace through secondments or transfers.  Leaving your job can be stressful, but also increases your employers recruitment and training costs.
  • Take a holiday – make sure you are taking your holiday entitlements. Holidays are important to recharge batteries and get a sense of perspective.
  • Consider flexible working – you have the right to request flexible working and employers have a duty to give serious consideration to such requests and to refuse them only if they have clear business reasons for doing so.
  • Caring responsibilities - if you have recently become a carer, you also have legal protections at work to help you cope with your caring role.
  • Counselling - some employers provide counselling in-house or have access to counselling services as part of an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), speak to your HR lead.
  • Occupational health - you could ask for a referral to your company Occupational health specialist who will assess you health needs at work so that managers have the advice they need to support you in the workplace.